Employing Veterans in the Workforce

By on May 6, 2014

As we go through a gradual reduction in force following the War on Terror, the modern workforce has seen a huge number of veterans applying for jobs. Working with veterans can have its own set of rewards and challenges based on their time with the armed services. Veterans can be some of your best employees, but as an employer you can face additional challenges if you do not provide the best working environment for them.

6 Tips to Better Motivate Veterans

1. Understand the Work Environment That They Come From

Depending on their branch, Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), and duty assignments, veterans have a wide background of experiences that shape their focus on how they will interact in a civilian environment. The similarities of military life are the major driving factors in how you should train and motivate your veteran employees.

Veterans all went through Basic Training. In basic training, they were reshaped and reformed to think in a specific way, specifically: the military way. Concepts such as obeying orders, uniform grooming standards, and respect and deference to authority figures were drilled into them and will carry over into how they interact with civilian employers.

The flip side to this is that while a veteran will respect you as their supervisor, they will not automatically defer to you as a person unless you earn their respect. You will need to show expertise at both your own job and in the ability to train them to do their job tasks. Once gained, that respect will be a great safety net for your company as you build and motivate your workforce. You will also need to show that you value their input, since personal initiative is highly rewarded in the modern military.

2. Respect the Tasks That They Did

Depending on what they did while in the service, chances are that they had greater access to higher security data, more costly equipment, and more day to day responsibility than they will receive with your company. They could have reviewed secret data, piloted planes or drones, or driven warships. Manning the helm of an aircraft carrier, let alone navigating or commanding one, takes a great deal of skill that they most likely will not use in your company, but shows an incredible ability to learn and operate under high stress situations.

As an employer, work with your leadership team to find ways to relate their previous experiences to the job that you want them to accomplish for you. If you need brainstorming sessions on how to make that happen, reach out to a business counselor or veterans affairs group to assist you.

Veterans may also have been deployed to combat areas, where the biggest hurdle for the day was just to see the next day. Often times, their actions were not under constant scrutiny by superiors unless they did something wrong, so constant task monitoring tells the average veteran that you do not trust them. This perceived lack of trust will negatively impact your working relationship with a veteran employee.

3. Streamline Tasks

Veterans hate pointless wastes of time. In the military, there is a concept called ‘’Hurry up and Wait’ or ‘15 till 15 till’, which is where a senior officer might call for an inspection at 10 AM, so the next person down in the chain of command will demand that their subordinates be prepared 15 minutes prior to that time. This goes on all the way down until the lowest level people are ready and standing around for the inspection hours ahead of time, because each level of authority wants their subordinates ready 15 minutes prior to when the person above them wants to be ready.

While the above example ensures that there is ample time to fix mistakes or the unprepared, it wastes the time of the people who have done what they were supposed to do. Also, many punishments that do not warrant writing a person up such as minor infractions are time wasters, from cutting grass with scissors to sweeping sunshine off of a sidewalk.

4. Focus on what Motivates Them

In the military, soldiers are given medals when they do well. Additionally, they wear certain badges or uniform items that represent some of the tasks that they do or have accomplished. These things represent points of pride to the veterans, and boost the respect that they get from other soldiers and veterans. Take the time to find out what motivates the individual working for you, and focus your leadership skills on motivating that veteran as a person. Whether it is visible recognition, increased autonomy, or pay raises and promotions, your ability to key in to them will boost your mutual successes.

When you are keyed in on what motivates them, you can use that to inspire new levels of productivity from them. Since military life often requires a professional attitude to accomplish specific tasks under minimal margins for error, veterans are excellent at meeting high stress deadlines. Also, veterans typically react well to stressful job settings, such as deadlines and other project goals. Having a well motivated veteran employee can mean excellent job output for your company.

5. Focus on the Positive, but Be Ready for the Negative

Veterans can have lasting physical and mental responses to their time in the service. Some may be certain physical damage, if they were injured in combat, while others may be more psychological because of what they may have seen or experienced. Not all veterans experience these setbacks; try not to make negative assumptions based on stories you have heard about other veterans.

However, you need to be ready to make certain accommodations for veterans based on their specific needs. If a veteran who was injured can’t physically do their job the same way that everyone else does, allow them their personal method. If the veteran needs specific time off, but chooses not to tell you why, allow it (within company guidelines, of course).

6. Honesty in Discipline is Key

While everyone is different, veterans come from a background where certain behaviors that are looked down on in civilian life are considered acceptable. If a veteran does things that bother you or other employees, such as using profanity or indecent humor, it is on you as the employer to correct the behavior.

Your honest and candid feedback, and discipline when necessary, will help to establish the workplace environment that you want for all your employees to work in and clients and customers to visit. Do not idly cast away a potentially excellent employee over a behavior that can be modified.

Help Veterans Transition into the Workplace

Whether it is your first time hiring a veteran or you are a veteran yourself, realize that working with veterans can be a huge success for your company. If you are uncertain about how to motivate veterans or want to know more about hiring more veterans for your company, reach out to veterans affairs groups.

Many of them have business counselors that they work with that will help you to get the most from your employees while also aiding recently retired or discharged veterans in their transition to full civilian life. Understanding the potential hurdles and challenges and overcoming them means access to a wide range of professional and skilled workers who will grow your business to new levels.

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About Charles Wazig

FSN Business Columnist - Charles Wazig has been a business consultant for the past 10 years and has aided small and medium sized enterprises start and grow in almost every industry. Understanding markets and financial forecasting can be a daunting task, and Charles strives to make it easier for the common person to be fully prepared for creating and running their business. You can find Charles on !

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